Recordkeeping was my least favorite course in high school. I was 15 years old, and only took the class because I wanted to drive a flimsy green 75-horsepower car that my parents had obtained from my grandmother’s estate.
I was anxious to take Driver’s Education in the second semester of my sophomore year so that I could have a learner’s permit. That would allow me to tool around, with a fully licensed driver, in my woefully underpowered studmobile which came with one, and only one, added option: an automatic transmission. No air conditioning or power steering, no power windows or locks, no interval wipers, no cruise control, and just an AM radio. My parents did add air conditioning, but that sapped the car’s power so much that you had to turn it off every time you took off from a stop or wanted to pass someone on the highway. But it was eventually slated to become a car of my very own!
The single-semester Driver Education course in the spring had to be paired with a single-semester course in the fall. My schedule forced that to be in the final period of the day, and I groaned when I read the semester-length offerings for that period, having already used up the Library Aide and Research Skills options:
- Vocal music? When our church’s junior choir did It’s Cool in the Furnace, I was made the narrator…who wouldn’t have to sing much. Lord, no.
- Guitar theory? I was in my eleventh year of piano lessons, with plenty of daily practice already. I’d rather hammer than strum the strings.
- Typing? I had learned to touch-type in the fifth grade on my own, working through my mother’s old Gregg typing manual.
- Recordkeeping? Are you kidding?
- That just left athletics. I had always been a short and skinny kid. Just how short and skinny? Below are charts comparing my height and weight up through junior high to the percentiles for males in the USA. Puberty had boosted my height so that only 2 out of 3 boys were taller, but 4 out of 5 were still heavier than me. And yes, I realize those charts also clearly illustrate my consummate nerdiness and…recordkeeping.
Thus for my first semester of high school, Recordkeeping it would be. That was my first mistake in high school; I should have opted for vocal music.
Recordkeeping requires patience and endurance
At that time, Putnam City Schools still had junior highs for grades 7-9 and its high schools were for grades 10-12. Two different junior highs fed into my high school, and there were always familiar faces in my classes on my first day…until Recordkeeping at the end of the day.
I walked into the class and my heart sank. I didn’t know a single person in there. I think I might have been the first Honors kid to ever enroll. Our teacher passed out the books.
Today is day 1, our first day. So today is Job 1.
I was baffled until I opened the book and saw that it was one dreary and painfully obvious assignment after another. Job 1, Job 2, Job 3, Job 4, ad nauseam. Oh, dear.
It didn’t take long to realize that the teacher had an intellect rivalled only by garden tools. As my memories of him are unkind, I’ll call him Mr. Sputter. I was seated right behind Big John, whose daily goal was to get out of class. Day after day I endured the same exchange:
Today is day #. So today is Job #.
Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.
John, you need your book to do your job.
I know, Mr. Sputter, but I need to get it from my locker.
John, you were gone for half the class the last time you went to get your book.
I got a big locker, Mr. Sputter. That book gets buried.
That exchange occurred on a daily basis. At first, I thought it was some sort of joke, but then I realized John was the only one with a sense of humor. I began dropping my head in my hands during the daily routine, silently praying for one of them to choke to death. John would usually talk his way out of class, be gone for at least half of the period, and then saunter back in, smirking, often still without the book, prompting another ridiculous exchange.
One day, Sputter had a brainwave on how to keep John from leaving class. We were supposed to be learning how to calculate time-and-a-half overtime pay.
Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.
John, you won't need your book today. Just take notes.
Mr. Sputter, I forgot to bring any paper. I need to go to my locker.
Granger, loan John a piece of paper.
Thanks. Uh, Mr. Sputter, I forgot to bring a pencil. I need to go to my locker.
Granger has a spare pencil.
This was followed by some sputtering through the amazing mathematics of calculating overtime pay. John interrupted time and again, with one polite but ridiculous question after another. Sputter. Question. Sputter. Question. On and on it went, dragging a 5-minute lesson to 30 minutes or more. As the teacher sputtered, his face reddened and his eyes began to bulge. And then…
Mr. Sputter, I think I could figure this out if I could just go get my book and read it.
Granger, loan John your book.
Good Lord, what next? My spectacles?
On we slogged, day after day, job after job. Okay, John never slogged. And then, finally:
Today is day 88, our last day. So today is Job 88.
Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.
A soft keening wail began to emanate from about a foot above my desk.
I finally exited Recordkeeping, with my 100% average, and I was off to Driver’s Ed with Mr. Cornelius, a tale for another time. But I was then a trained recordkeeper, and the next semester also featured a course in Research Skills with the librarian, featuring mind-numbing lessons on things like The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, which I had already mastered as a library aide back in junior high.
Library aide had been the authorized way to get out of a semester of physical education back in junior high, although they still forced you to do it the other semester each year…until I invented my own extended chemistry course to escape even that. I was short, skinny, and smart.
Some might think that my library aide service in junior high and the research and recordkeeping courses during my first year of high school forged my lifelong interest in collecting, sorting, organizing, labeling, filing, digitizing, and sharing data. But maybe, just maybe, my father had something to do with it.
What you see here is my father’s largest bookcase. He had a bunch of barrister bookcases, but this open one was four feet wide and almost seven feet tall. As an elementary school kid, I remember climbing up its shelves to retrieve some books filed away on the top shelf.
There was a two-volume abridgment of Toynbee’s A Study of History, which was far too dry to hold my interest, although I did like the huge timeline chart of world history my father had drafted, which extended across the back of multiple natural gas pipeline blueprints. I presume his Toynbee’s helped with that. Another book up high had an intriguing title: The Monkey on Your Back or something like that. I remember working up the courage to climb up to get it, only to discover it was a book about middle management. Sad trombone!
Over a retirement that lasted about four decades, my father gradually filled that bookcase with his archives. He sifted, organized, categorized, and labeled papers and photographs from and about his career, family, vacations, cartoons, poems, and genealogy. I shudder to think how much money Hewlett Packard made off the overpriced ink for his inkjet printer, which was used daily.
But that mound of material helped him write a World War II memoir, an autobiography, and a biography about my mother. I scanned and inserted photographs, maps, and the like and reformatted the WordPerfect files he created.
Dad also accumulated collectibles and artifacts, but thankfully divested himself of most of those in his later years, giving many of them away to relatives. I had no interest in antique yokes, potato mashers, and the like, as I can always go to Har-Ber Village to see plenty of that sort of thing. Dad also whittled down the family archive a bit.
But when he passed away last year, and Mom moved to independent living in Bartlesville, the remains of Dad’s archive, along with our family photo albums and reels of standard 8 home movies, were still enough to fill that big bookcase.
So I had the thing moved from Oklahoma City to a bedroom at little Meador Manor. I’ve been retrieving childhood photos from it for months for #grangerthings and #ThrowbackThursday posts on Facebook. And I have my own smaller personal archive of photographs, yearbooks, and scrapbooks, both physical and digital. That includes MEADOR.ORG, with 744 posts and over 670,000 words which have accumulated over 140,000 visits and over 336,000 views since 2006. Did I mention that I took Recordkeeping?
My recent recordkeeping
Over five years ago, I transitioned from teaching physics at Bartlesville High School to managing the district’s technology and communications. That landed me in an office at the district’s Education Service Center with a filing problem.
That office had housed the previous few community relations directors and there were two large filing cabinets stuffed with old paper files, photographic prints, some slides, brittle copies of newsletters and brochures, and outdated photography equipment. Much of the physical material dated from the 1980s through the 2000s, including many black and white photographic prints with no labels or organization. Figuring out what to do with that older material was a low priority.
Newsletters, Minutes, and Websites
For years, Community Relations Supervisor Ken Dolezal produced a weekly paper newsheet for district staff. Few of those survive. Some time after Ken passed away in 2001, at the far too young age of 52, the district transitioned to digital photography and newsletters.
So I first concentrated on a digital archive of The Bruin newsletter from its origin in 2007 through its demise in 2018. I also ensured that the school board minutes since 2008 were organized into an online archive, compiled an incomplete teaching awards database, and preserved articles about the inductees into the local school foundation’s Educator Hall of Fame.
The district website was my next major project. I had taken over the high school’s website back in 2004 and the district one in 2012. I hand-coded the district website for years, augmenting that with a hand-coded mobile version and using Google Sites for news articles. I eventually transitioned everything to the free Google Sites service. But then Facebook began blocking links to Google Sites, a new version of Google Sites was going to make the existing websites obsolete, and I needed a way for us to write news items and have them easily distributed across multiple social media platforms, given that my technology responsibilities didn’t leave me with enough time to compose a regular newsletter.
So my next focus was on identifying and funding a vendor to supply a content management system for our websites and establishing and linking social media accounts for the district and each of its schools, including iOS and Android mobile apps. The COVID-19 pandemic struck during that transition, with technology and communications challenges which kept me incredibly busy for several years. The countless old photos at my workplace had to wait.
With COVID-19 finally subsiding into an endemic phase in 2023, I had time to return my attention to the vintage photographs in my office filing cabinets. I opened a drawer and picked up an intriguing little envelope. It said it contained negatives for Jefferson School from 1939-1942.
I began compiling a school facility history archive long ago, so I knew all about Jefferson, although it was no longer used for classes five years before I began working in Bartlesville and was razed five years after my employment began. What I was not familiar with were those odd negatives.
Instead of a long narrow strip of 35 mm film with multiple images, these were large single-image negatives that were 4.25 inches by 2.5 inches. They were clearly black-and-white, and one immediately caught my eye since it showed costumed kids in front of a large sign about a circus.
I realized it showed kids celebrating the 66th birthday of Frank Phillips in 1939. He had founded Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville, and I knew Frank had loved the circus and was known to send area schoolchildren. I held the 84-year-old negative up to the fluorescent ceiling lights in my office and snapped a shot of it on my iPhone. I then reversed it with my trusty ThumbsPlus software on my Windows desktop and posted the image on the Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville Facebook group.
That generated a lot of interest, but I needed a much better setup to properly digitize the old negatives. The next morning, Wendy loaned me her fluorescent lightbox which she had used to trace artwork. I took it to work and set my iPhone 14 Pro on a tripod to snap the dozens of negatives with even lighting. I straightened, cropped, and enhanced the results in the iOS Photos app, and then I used ThumbsPlus to flip them from negatives to positives. That work over an hour or two that morning produced superb results.
The negatives were 70 mm Kodak 116/616 film, used back in the day for direct contact prints. Their large size meant that my simple setup with the light table and my smartphone worked fine. I posted 49 of the shots to a public Google Drive folder, along with another 11 shots of Jefferson students in Halloween costumes. I also posted the shots to the Facebook group, which elicited plenty of likes.
That was a shot in the arm for me to begin the task of digitizing the jumbled community relations archive. There were thousands of black-and-white photographic prints and boxes of photographic negatives and slides. Many of the older prints had been taken by Ken Dolezal. I know he used to have a photographic darkroom up above the print shop, and I was blessed to know Ken from 1989 until his untimely death in 2001. Few of the prints, however, retained their stapled captions. So what next?
I had already figured out that I could post images on a Shared Google Drive at work, where they should be safe even past my retirement in 5-10 years. And I found I could annotate the Description field for each file and that was searchable. I didn’t mind looking at each image and typing in a brief description, including anyone I could both immediately recognize and remember their name. I wouldn’t have time to consult old yearbooks to try and identify more people, but it would do, and I could sort the photos into rough categories. So this little Recordkeeper had his organization, labeling, and distribution solution. But the light table and smartphone setup wasn’t going to work for digitizing thousands of prints and 35 mm negative strips and slides.
A thousand dollars later…
I knew from scanning snapshots for my father’s and mother’s memoirs that scanning thousands of photos on a regular flatbed scanner wouldn’t be feasible. I needed a specialized high-speed scanner with software to decurl and enhance the resulting images. Similarly, I’ve used a mirror accessory before to scan 35 mm negatives and slides on a flatbed scanner, and that was also a pain in the rear. I would need an even more specialized scanner for them.
I work in Oklahoma, which has among the lowest per-pupil school funding in the nation. So I wasn’t about to spend scarce taxpayer school dollars on equipment to digitize the old photos. But I had that immense home archive of family snapshots that also could use digitizing…
That was enough to convince me to cough up $545 of my salary to purchase an Epson FastFoto FF-680W high-speed photo and document scanner to digitize the prints at work and hopefully eventually tackle my home archives. And I was certain that no one but me would ever bother with the old negatives at work, so even though I have no remaining film negatives at home, I coughed up another $435 for a Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE 35mm film and slide scanner. Being a history hero ain’t cheap.
The Epson print scanner worked like a charm. I could load dozens of photographic prints, with each taking only seconds to process. Occasionally I had to rotate an image 90 or 180 degrees, but that was about it. I set the software to automatically upload the output to the Shared Google Drive.
Then I viewed each file in the Google Drive, annotating the Description field for each one. The first wave of prints were from the mid-1980s. I started working in the district in 1989, so I recognized some adults but few students. When I could dredge up a name from my memory, I added that to the description. I eventually sorted the prints into about 20 categories, grouping all of the Athletics images in one folder, Student Awards in another, and so on.
Later I came across some prints from the 1990s and some color prints from 1999-2005. There was a smattering of very old items, such as this print of the Bartlesville High School girls basketball team from 1915-1916:
I also found 15 color prints of aerial photos of the record 1986 flood in Bartlesville. Below is one of the them, showing the flooding of Custer Field and Stadium at Bartlesville High School.
I set up a camera to show how quickly those flood prints were scanned:
And here are the rest of the flood photographs:
I have now scanned, uploaded, and partially annotated over 2,100 prints. Here are some links:
Building the archive will remain a work in progress for a long time, as there are still many more photographs to be digitized. Unfortunately, they are not in the convenient form of photographic prints.
There are the many envelopes of color photographic negatives which are painfully slow to scan. Here’s a video of me scanning a single color negative…it is longer than the one where I scanned 15 color prints.
Clearly I’m hoping that many of the negatives in the file are for prints I have already scanned, as scanning negatives is quite tedious.
There are also dozens of CD-RW discs which need to be processed and uploaded into the cloud since we no longer buy desktop computers with compact disc drives, plus the CD-RW discs will eventually be unreadable due to bit rot.
But more intriguing to me are items that were stashed high up in a second-floor storage room. Wade Kester, who has worked for the district since 1980, had stashed away some treasures up there. I found lots of 35 mm color slides along with cans of film negatives. Here is what it is like to scan a color slide:
Thus far I have digitized several interesting sets of slides. A bunch of photos were taken in 1983 of seven different elementary schools that were later closed.
I also found a bunch of slides from the 1970s.
And I found two sets of slides that combined my interests in technology and history, as they were from a 1970 project that linked a mainframe computer at Oklahoma State University with video terminals at the two high schools in Bartlesville.
I especially enjoyed the stereotypical late 1960s and early 1970s elements in the those slideshows.
My frustration in not being able to identify one of the principals in a 1983 photo at Oak Park, until someone in the Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville Facebook group helped me out, has led me to do some classic recordkeeping this week. I found old state directories up through 1985 and have spent hours in the district vault checking old personnel records to fill in gaps, building a spreadsheet which I’ll eventually share in the online archive as well.
Once that recordkeeping exercise is as far as I can reasonably take it, my next project will be photographing and inverting large-format black-and-white negatives that were taken from 1970-1972 by Don Gregg. The state directories revealed he was the district’s public relations guy from 1966 to 1972. He used the darkroom in the district’s then-new Media Center, which was created in 1970 from a remnant of the old Horace Mann school. In 1974, the district added onto the Media Center to create the Education Service Center where I’ve worked since I left the classroom in 2017.
I’d been up in the weird old darkroom over the years, which is where some Ellison die-cutting machines and many old dies are now tucked away, without realizing its original purpose. Those negatives Don developed over fifty years ago are especially nice since they are organized into little manila envelopes with brief descriptions scribbled on them. I’ll be able to give them informative filenames and descriptions when I add them to the online archive.
After that, there are still uncounted photographic negatives and hundreds of slides to peruse, along with the bevy of CD-RW discs. This little archivist still has his work cut out for him. However, unlike John, I brought my Recordkeeping book to Mr. Sputter’s class every day of my first semester in high school. So I am up to the challenge.
Thank you for all the work you’ve done. It’s Friday night and I am “nerding out” on all the old photos and info on the closed schools of Bartlesville. My friend since the 3rd grade just sent me these wonderful links! We both graduated from BHS in 1991 and years later ended up in OKC. We lived here for years before realizing we were both here and lived so close to each other. I am on the 2700 block of NW 21st and at the time he was living on the 2700 block of NW 37th. Ha! For so long we have been talking about how there has to be more info on these old schools somewhere, specifically Jefferson. We have talked each other through the halls of that school helping each other fill in the blanks of what grades were in what classrooms, funny/interesting occurrences and funny/interesting teachers and classmates. We really did love that school. Even after it closed, occasionally you could find a door open and we would walk the halls and eventually end up in the gymnasium where we had once performed in Fern Boatwright’s famous 3rd grade Americanism program and also attended the last 6th grade graduation. I actually lived closer to Highland Park that year, but rode my bicycle across town every day to be there for Jefferson’s last year. Again… thank you and thanks to the others that had held on to the envelopes and boxes of memories and information.
You are most welcome! I’m glad you and your friend found each other in OKC, which is my hometown. Happy memories!